Ag Policy Blog

Farmers for Free Trade Counters President's Tweet

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent

President Donald Trump early Monday tweeted that American farmers have not been doing well under free-trade agreements, but Farmers for Free Trade, a group backed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, immediately responded to the tweet, noting that American farmers have been “winning” with exports.

Meanwhile, the leaders in other countries continued to criticize the tariffs that the Trump administration plans to impose on steel and aluminum, and made plans to retaliate in various ways.

Trump tweeted, “Farmers have not been doing well for 15 years. Mexico, Canada, China and others have treated them unfairly. By the time I finish trade talks, that will change. Big trade barriers against U.S. farmers, and other businesses, will finally be broken. Massive trade deficits no longer!”

In a separate tweet, Trump wrote, “China already charges a tax of 16% on soybeans. Canada has all sorts of trade barriers on our Agricultural products. Not acceptable!”

But Angela Hofmann, deputy director of Farmers for Free Trade, responded in a news release, “We have a surplus in agriculture trade. So by the President’s own metric, U.S. agriculture trade has been winning.”

“The only thing that could put that at risk are harmful tariffs that will tax the very exports our farmers depend on for their livelihoods,” Hofmann said. “We can and should address non-tariff barriers, but we can’t do it in a way that puts major ag export markets at risk.”

Hofman’s statement reflected the fact that U.S. farm exports have expanded immensely in recent decades due to various trade agreements.

As DTN's Chris Clayton cited in a tweet, "U.S. ag exports for 2018 are forecast at $142.5 billion, and imports at $121.5 billion, for a projected ag trade surplus of $21 billion. USDA updated numbers last week."

In the current North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations, the U.S. dairy industry has asked the administration to address its complaints about Canadian dairy policy, and vegetable growers in the Southeast have complained about imports about Mexican produce.

Other farm groups have complained about high tariffs and phyto and phytosanitary barriers to products in various countries.

But in general U.S. agriculture has expressed faith in global trade and has expressed fears that Trump’s trade policies will result in retaliatory tariffs that will make U.S. farm products more expensive than foreigners will be willing to pay.

Asked at the daily White House press briefing about farmers’ uncertainties due to Trump’s trade statements, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “Certainly, the president is trying to do everything he can to protect American farmers, American businesses, and he is negotiating with a number of countries.”

“But also, the president wants to make sure that we’re ending unfair trade practices,” Sanders said. “The president has said that he wants to help protect farmers, and we're looking at a number of different ways to do that. And we’re going to continue that throughout this process.”

Also on Monday, a day after the Chinese said they will not increase imports if the United States imposes tariffs, the White House finally issued a statement about the trade trip to China this week led by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that also included Gregg Doud, the chief U.S. agriculture negotiator, and Agriculture Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney.

The statement said, “Over the weekend, administration officials, led by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, concluded a series of meetings in Beijing with a delegation from the government of China, as part of ongoing trade discussions.”

“The meetings focused on reducing the United States’ trade deficit by facilitating the supply of agricultural and energy products to meet China’s growing consumption needs, which will help support growth and employment in the United States.

“The United States officials conveyed President Donald J. Trump’s clear goal for achieving a fair trading relationship with China. The delegations will now report back to receive guidance on the path forward.”

Mexico on Monday said it would follow Canada and initiate a dispute settlement process at the World Trade Organization over the tariffs on steel and aluminum that Trump has said the United States will impose.

Mexico has also said it will impose retaliatory tariffs on a number of U.S. products including apples, cheeses and pork legs and shoulders.

Summit Commodities market analyst Tim Marsh says U.S. pork may have dodged a bullet because Mexico did not include hams on the list, the Red River Farm Network reported.

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland on CNN Monday continued Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s criticism last week of Trump’s tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.

“it is important for Americans to understand the justification under your rules for the imposition of these tariffs was a national security consideration,” Freeland said.

“So, what you are saying to us and to all of your NATO allies is that we somehow represent a national security threat to the United States. And I would just say to all of Canada’s American friends — and there are so many — seriously? Do you really believe that Canada, that your NATO allies represent a national security threat to you? . . . And so this is a really sad time for us. We are hurt, and we are insulted.”

Asked if the United States and Canada are in a trade war, Freeland said, “I would prefer not to use that kind of bellicose, militaristic language when talking about trade, but this is the strongest trade action Canada has taken since the Second World War.”

The Canadian Broadcasting Company said in an analysis that the Canadian government had very carefully chosen products on which to retaliate for maximum political pressure.

“This list was clearly drawn strategically to exert maximum pain politically for the president,” Maryscott Greenwood of the Canadian American Business Council told the CBC.

“The idea is, you look at a map of the congressional districts of the United States, you look at which members of Congress are in leadership positions and then you look at the big industries in those districts and then you draw up your list accordingly,” she said. “And this list was clearly drawn up with this in mind.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May, after a call to Trump on Monday, said that the tariffs on steel and aluminum from the European Union countries are “unjustified and deeply disappointing.”

The White House in its readout said that Trump and May discussed many subjects and that “the president further underscored the need to rebalance trade with Europe and expressed hope for a ‘Brexit’ deal that does not increase tensions on the Northern Ireland border.

Asked how Trump responded to May’s statement, Sanders said, “The president feels very confident in his decision, and we’ll continue to make sure that the unfair trade practices that have gone on for decades do not continue, and that he’s protecting the interest of American workers and American businesses.”

Trump is scheduled to meet with May and the other G7 leaders in Canada later this week.

But on Saturday the finance ministers of the other six members of the G7 group met, and Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau issued a summary saying the other members want Trump to hear their message of “concern and disappointment” over the U.S. trade actions, The Washington Post reported.

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